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A bright bar with yellow leather seats.
Kindling is bringing some energy to Willis Tower.
Chris Peters/Eater Chicago

The Hottest New Restaurants in Chicago, February 2023

Resist the winter doldrums and grab a great meal

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Kindling is bringing some energy to Willis Tower.
| Chris Peters/Eater Chicago

Single-digit temperature reading are the norm in February. And while some may elect to remain at home, it’s good to get the blood flowing and meeting up with some friends to combat the winter doldrums. With that, it’s tie for the latest edition of Eater Chicago’s Heatmap.

The Heatmap features new restaurants and old favorites creating a new buzz. Whereas the Eater 38 is a collection of can’t-miss stalwarts and bucket-list entries, the Heatmap is about the now — focused on recent openings that have the city’s diners talking.

For Februrary, there are four additions: A River North pizza cafe, a North Side game cafe with Puerto Rican food, a major change to the Willis Tower, and an intriguing French collaboration between a lauded chef and a local hospitality company.

For updated information on coronavirus cases, please visit the city of Chicago’s COVID-19 dashboard. Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; it may pose a risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial COVID transmission. The latest CDC guidance is here; find a COVID-19 vaccination site here.

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Restaurateur Amy Morton (Found) and James Beard Award-winning chef Debbie Gold have made manifest their three decades years of friendship and collaboration in the form of LeTour, a contemporary French brasserie with strong Moroccan influences in suburban Evanston. The round restaurant — a nod to the full-circle nature of the partners’ relationship, which began 30 years ago at Morton’s first restaurant — launched in late fall 2022 and continues to draw patrons for steak frites, classic Lyonnaise salad, and chicken tagine with green olives and apricots.

A dining room with bright walls and colorful artwork.
LeTour is making a splash in the suburbs.
Kim Kovacik/Eater Chicago

Khmai Cambodian Fine Dining

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A rare Cambodian restaurant in Chicago serving traditional Khmer cuisine made its debut this summer, shining a long-awaited spotlight on the deep and complex flavors of the Southeast Asian country. In just a few months, owner Mona Sang (who lost her Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises job during the pandemic) has drawn hoards to Rogers Park with her menu — an often-changing assortment of classic Khmer dishes such as Nom Bahn Chok and Plear Sach Koh — and family’s riveting story of surviving the Cambodian genocide.

A daughter puts her arm around her mother as they pose with slight smiles inside a restaurant dining room.
Khmai is a family story.
Jack X. Li/Eater Chicago

Irene's

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Irene’s is from the owners of Press Room, one of the best wine bars in the city. They’ve remodeled a space that’s housed diners under a revolving door of owners through the years. One of the diners belonged to the co-owner’s parents. At Irene’s, the food doesn’t come from a can — expect veggies from top farms and meats from well-known vendors. The pies are even from Bang Bang. Irene’s is for folks who love diner breakfast and lunch but don’t want their stomachs to pay for it later.

Eggs with home fries and a side of bacon. Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Second Generation

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Second Generation feels nostalgic, a neighborhood bistro that’s worth a special visit, one that questions the definition of American cuisine. The trio of owners are Asian American and proudly serve kimchi, pickled shrimp, and kalbi-marinated steak. And though the traditional presentations of these items are delicious, Second Generation fuses them with European tradition. This restaurant has something for everybody, including the famous Mott St burger. 

Seared scallops on a plate. Chris Peters/Eater Chicago

The Meadowlark

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The Meadowlark, the diminutive and moody cocktail bar that made its fall debut in the same Logan Square corner that houses sister venues Lardon and Union, has already made a noteworthy splash with its opening menu from beverage director Abe Vucekovich, formerly of the Violet Hour. The lineup, presented in a beautifully designed and illustrated booklet, draws inspiration from the native birds of the Midwest with options such as the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, made with Bolivian brandy, Amontillado Sherry, amaro, and smoked orange bitters; and the Snowy Owl, a concoction of Quebranta Pisco with creme de cacao, orgeat, and a whole shaken egg. Future selections could channel the 1920s-era Parisian cocktail revolution or iconic New York City punk club CBGB. This space fills up quickly and reservations are highly recommended.

A dimly-lit bar space with a long, curved white bar and exposed brick walls.
The speakeasy-style spot completes Meadowlark Hospitality’s triad of businesses in Logan Square.
Jack X. Li/Eater Chicago

French cuisine is perched to be trendy once again in Chicago, enjoying the same surge in popularity it’s seen in New York in recent years. The project kicking off this renaissance is Obelix, the project from the Poilevey brothers — they grew up in the restaurant world watching their parents open Le Bouchon and Le Sardine. This modern bistro is a French American take with items like a foie gras taco and a menu section dedicated to duck. Also, look out for outstanding desserts; it wouldn’t be an terrible move to grab a nightcap and something sweet.

An open-face taco.
The foie gras taco is decadent.
Chris Peters/Eater Chicago

Indienne

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Indienne means “Indian” in French, and represents the blended philosophy at this River North restaurant which serves a tasting menu. Food, like kebobs, is presented through a fine dining lens with ingredients like duck and foie gras. This is an upscale Indian restaurant in the same vein as what legendary Indian chef Floyd Cardoz showed in New York. It’s also Chicago’s second Indian tasting-menu restaurant, and the options bear similarities with Wazwan in Wicker Park. Indienne also sports an extensive wine list and tea from Sparrow Coffee. 

Chris Peters/Eater Chicago

Kyuramen x TBaar - Downtown Chicago

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The Chicago location of this Japanese chain features a stunning design with hexagonal booths and the restaurant’s famous Mega Ramen. Chicago famous Chinese restaurateur Tony Hu (Lao Sze Chuan) helped bring Kyuramen to River North. Beyond the Japanese snacks, there’s a full line of juices. 

A ramen restaurant with double-level booths. Chris Peters/Eater Chicago

Planta Queen

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It’s OK to hold a healthy amount of skepticism when it comes to Planta Queen, a vegan mini-chain with locations in Miami and Toronto. How will this meat- and dairy-free food translate in Chicago? Well, quite well, as the city doesn’t have enough upscale vegan restaurant downtown (especially with the recent closure of Althea). Enjoy fun vegan nigiri, Chinese and Japanese noodles, and more. So far, it’s been a hit in River North and rumor has it that the food’s even made the most stubborn meat and potatoes fan happy. So much for The Jungle.

A piece of sushi made of eggplant.
Eggplant nigiri at Planta Queen.
Planta Queen

Any time a bar opens with food from a chef who’s helmed a three-Michelin-star restaurant (Grace), eaters should take note. After, the companion lounge inside the same building as Ever, chef Curtis Duffy’s newest restaurant, shines with elevated bar bites such as duck wings, wagyu or hamachi skewers, and caviar flights. The experience, inside a dark and modern space, is unique and reservations are highly recommended.

Ashok Selvam/Eater Chicago

Soulé 2

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Soule 2 brings a rare amenity to the neighborhood: a sit-down restaurant with a full bar. Owner Brigette Flagg says she wanted to see where she grew up flourish, and so she took her West Town operation (for now, closed) to the West Side. Find grits, wings, and other comfort food selections.

Kim Kovacik/Eater Chicago

Nine Bar

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Chinatown’s first cocktail bar, a speakeasy-style spot tucked inside the nearly 50-year-old neighborhood institution Moon Palace, has bounded out of the gate since its May debut, attracting crowds with a menu of Asian-influenced cocktails made with liquors like baiju, soju, and shochu in sleek, Blade Runner-esque digs. Nine Bar is the creation of bartenders Lily Wang (Estereo) and Joe Briglio (Blind Barber), and features a fun snack menu from chef Elvis Mom (Spinning J) that includes Hong Kong-style French toast with vegan milk bread, a McKatsu sandwich with American cheese and Bulldog tonkatsu sauce, and waffle fries smothered in mapo chili sauce.

A dark bar with blue lighting.
Nine Bar is hidden behind the swinging kitchen door at Moon Palace Express.
Kim Kovacik/Eater Chicago

Shoo Loong Kan Hotpot

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Chicago’s been waiting for this hot pot restaurant, a chain with more than 800 locations from China’s Sichuan province. They’ve Americanized the name (it’s Xiaolongkan elsewhere). Tony Hu (Lao Sze Chuan) helped bring the restaurant to Chicago; it opened its first American restaurant this summer in New York. There’s another in Houston, too. It’s a gorgeous restaurant that offers a trip through Chinese history, and Hu calls it the “most authentic” hot pot experience in town as it celebrates the communal dining tradition. 

A dining room decorated with traditional Chinese screens, reds, and lanterns.
Shoo Loong Kạn ís open in Chicago.
Jack X. Li/Eater Chicago

Daisy's Po' Boy and Tavern

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The third restaurant from Virtue chef and Beard Award winner Erick Williams is a tribute to cajun and creole cooking. Named for his aunt, Daisy’s is a sports tavern with po’ boys, fried chicken, and cold beer. Hopefully it will give the South Side another anchor, a more casual spot to hang their hats.

A muffuletta open and being topped. Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Pistores Pizza & Pastry

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A husband-and-wife team has returned to Chicago to launch a modern Italian restaurant and cafe focusing on gourmet thin-crust and Detroit-style pizzas. Pistores uses high-end ingredients with spectacular results. Find meatball, sausage & pepper varieties, including items like a tarte flambee.

A Detroit style pizza. Barry Brecheisen/Eater. Chicago

Stay and Play Game Cafe

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In Irving Park, a new tabletop game cafe serves Puerto Rican finger foods and a Chicago favorite, the legendary jibarito. Stay and Play cafe is a unique family-focused restaurant; there’s even a children's menu. 

Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Kindling | Downtown Cookout & Cocktails

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Even though dinner service hasn’t debuted — it debuts on Friday, February 3, the Sears’ former headquarters has a buzz. Kindling sits on the ground floor of the Willis Tower with a James Beard Award-winning chef, Jonathon Sawyer, helming a live-fire kitchen which brings a little flair to a well-thought out menu with a little bit for everything. Confit chicken wings, fresh pastas, and plenty of meaty specials are part of the restaurant’s repertoire. 

Chris Peters/Eater Chicago

Le Select

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Daniel Rose’s much-awaited homecoming has revealed a large and brooding brasserie in River North operated in partnership with Boka Restaurant Group. Rose gained Michelin game in New York and France and wants to make great French food accessible to Chicagoans with scallops in French curry, steamed marrow with a cherry glaze, and a killer French onion soup. There’s also a second-floor lounge.

Boka Restaurant Group

LeTour

Restaurateur Amy Morton (Found) and James Beard Award-winning chef Debbie Gold have made manifest their three decades years of friendship and collaboration in the form of LeTour, a contemporary French brasserie with strong Moroccan influences in suburban Evanston. The round restaurant — a nod to the full-circle nature of the partners’ relationship, which began 30 years ago at Morton’s first restaurant — launched in late fall 2022 and continues to draw patrons for steak frites, classic Lyonnaise salad, and chicken tagine with green olives and apricots.

A dining room with bright walls and colorful artwork.
LeTour is making a splash in the suburbs.
Kim Kovacik/Eater Chicago

Khmai Cambodian Fine Dining

A rare Cambodian restaurant in Chicago serving traditional Khmer cuisine made its debut this summer, shining a long-awaited spotlight on the deep and complex flavors of the Southeast Asian country. In just a few months, owner Mona Sang (who lost her Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises job during the pandemic) has drawn hoards to Rogers Park with her menu — an often-changing assortment of classic Khmer dishes such as Nom Bahn Chok and Plear Sach Koh — and family’s riveting story of surviving the Cambodian genocide.

A daughter puts her arm around her mother as they pose with slight smiles inside a restaurant dining room.
Khmai is a family story.
Jack X. Li/Eater Chicago

Irene's

Irene’s is from the owners of Press Room, one of the best wine bars in the city. They’ve remodeled a space that’s housed diners under a revolving door of owners through the years. One of the diners belonged to the co-owner’s parents. At Irene’s, the food doesn’t come from a can — expect veggies from top farms and meats from well-known vendors. The pies are even from Bang Bang. Irene’s is for folks who love diner breakfast and lunch but don’t want their stomachs to pay for it later.

Eggs with home fries and a side of bacon. Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Second Generation

Second Generation feels nostalgic, a neighborhood bistro that’s worth a special visit, one that questions the definition of American cuisine. The trio of owners are Asian American and proudly serve kimchi, pickled shrimp, and kalbi-marinated steak. And though the traditional presentations of these items are delicious, Second Generation fuses them with European tradition. This restaurant has something for everybody, including the famous Mott St burger. 

Seared scallops on a plate. Chris Peters/Eater Chicago

The Meadowlark

The Meadowlark, the diminutive and moody cocktail bar that made its fall debut in the same Logan Square corner that houses sister venues Lardon and Union, has already made a noteworthy splash with its opening menu from beverage director Abe Vucekovich, formerly of the Violet Hour. The lineup, presented in a beautifully designed and illustrated booklet, draws inspiration from the native birds of the Midwest with options such as the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, made with Bolivian brandy, Amontillado Sherry, amaro, and smoked orange bitters; and the Snowy Owl, a concoction of Quebranta Pisco with creme de cacao, orgeat, and a whole shaken egg. Future selections could channel the 1920s-era Parisian cocktail revolution or iconic New York City punk club CBGB. This space fills up quickly and reservations are highly recommended.

A dimly-lit bar space with a long, curved white bar and exposed brick walls.
The speakeasy-style spot completes Meadowlark Hospitality’s triad of businesses in Logan Square.
Jack X. Li/Eater Chicago

Obelix

French cuisine is perched to be trendy once again in Chicago, enjoying the same surge in popularity it’s seen in New York in recent years. The project kicking off this renaissance is Obelix, the project from the Poilevey brothers — they grew up in the restaurant world watching their parents open Le Bouchon and Le Sardine. This modern bistro is a French American take with items like a foie gras taco and a menu section dedicated to duck. Also, look out for outstanding desserts; it wouldn’t be an terrible move to grab a nightcap and something sweet.

An open-face taco.
The foie gras taco is decadent.
Chris Peters/Eater Chicago

Indienne

Indienne means “Indian” in French, and represents the blended philosophy at this River North restaurant which serves a tasting menu. Food, like kebobs, is presented through a fine dining lens with ingredients like duck and foie gras. This is an upscale Indian restaurant in the same vein as what legendary Indian chef Floyd Cardoz showed in New York. It’s also Chicago’s second Indian tasting-menu restaurant, and the options bear similarities with Wazwan in Wicker Park. Indienne also sports an extensive wine list and tea from Sparrow Coffee. 

Chris Peters/Eater Chicago

Kyuramen x TBaar - Downtown Chicago

The Chicago location of this Japanese chain features a stunning design with hexagonal booths and the restaurant’s famous Mega Ramen. Chicago famous Chinese restaurateur Tony Hu (Lao Sze Chuan) helped bring Kyuramen to River North. Beyond the Japanese snacks, there’s a full line of juices. 

A ramen restaurant with double-level booths. Chris Peters/Eater Chicago

Planta Queen

It’s OK to hold a healthy amount of skepticism when it comes to Planta Queen, a vegan mini-chain with locations in Miami and Toronto. How will this meat- and dairy-free food translate in Chicago? Well, quite well, as the city doesn’t have enough upscale vegan restaurant downtown (especially with the recent closure of Althea). Enjoy fun vegan nigiri, Chinese and Japanese noodles, and more. So far, it’s been a hit in River North and rumor has it that the food’s even made the most stubborn meat and potatoes fan happy. So much for The Jungle.

A piece of sushi made of eggplant.
Eggplant nigiri at Planta Queen.
Planta Queen

After

Any time a bar opens with food from a chef who’s helmed a three-Michelin-star restaurant (Grace), eaters should take note. After, the companion lounge inside the same building as Ever, chef Curtis Duffy’s newest restaurant, shines with elevated bar bites such as duck wings, wagyu or hamachi skewers, and caviar flights. The experience, inside a dark and modern space, is unique and reservations are highly recommended.

Ashok Selvam/Eater Chicago

Soulé 2

Soule 2 brings a rare amenity to the neighborhood: a sit-down restaurant with a full bar. Owner Brigette Flagg says she wanted to see where she grew up flourish, and so she took her West Town operation (for now, closed) to the West Side. Find grits, wings, and other comfort food selections.

Kim Kovacik/Eater Chicago

Nine Bar

Chinatown’s first cocktail bar, a speakeasy-style spot tucked inside the nearly 50-year-old neighborhood institution Moon Palace, has bounded out of the gate since its May debut, attracting crowds with a menu of Asian-influenced cocktails made with liquors like baiju, soju, and shochu in sleek, Blade Runner-esque digs. Nine Bar is the creation of bartenders Lily Wang (Estereo) and Joe Briglio (Blind Barber), and features a fun snack menu from chef Elvis Mom (Spinning J) that includes Hong Kong-style French toast with vegan milk bread, a McKatsu sandwich with American cheese and Bulldog tonkatsu sauce, and waffle fries smothered in mapo chili sauce.

A dark bar with blue lighting.
Nine Bar is hidden behind the swinging kitchen door at Moon Palace Express.
Kim Kovacik/Eater Chicago

Shoo Loong Kan Hotpot

Chicago’s been waiting for this hot pot restaurant, a chain with more than 800 locations from China’s Sichuan province. They’ve Americanized the name (it’s Xiaolongkan elsewhere). Tony Hu (Lao Sze Chuan) helped bring the restaurant to Chicago; it opened its first American restaurant this summer in New York. There’s another in Houston, too. It’s a gorgeous restaurant that offers a trip through Chinese history, and Hu calls it the “most authentic” hot pot experience in town as it celebrates the communal dining tradition. 

A dining room decorated with traditional Chinese screens, reds, and lanterns.
Shoo Loong Kạn ís open in Chicago.
Jack X. Li/Eater Chicago

Daisy's Po' Boy and Tavern

The third restaurant from Virtue chef and Beard Award winner Erick Williams is a tribute to cajun and creole cooking. Named for his aunt, Daisy’s is a sports tavern with po’ boys, fried chicken, and cold beer. Hopefully it will give the South Side another anchor, a more casual spot to hang their hats.

A muffuletta open and being topped. Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Pistores Pizza & Pastry

A husband-and-wife team has returned to Chicago to launch a modern Italian restaurant and cafe focusing on gourmet thin-crust and Detroit-style pizzas. Pistores uses high-end ingredients with spectacular results. Find meatball, sausage & pepper varieties, including items like a tarte flambee.

A Detroit style pizza. Barry Brecheisen/Eater. Chicago

Related Maps

Stay and Play Game Cafe

In Irving Park, a new tabletop game cafe serves Puerto Rican finger foods and a Chicago favorite, the legendary jibarito. Stay and Play cafe is a unique family-focused restaurant; there’s even a children's menu. 

Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Kindling | Downtown Cookout & Cocktails

Even though dinner service hasn’t debuted — it debuts on Friday, February 3, the Sears’ former headquarters has a buzz. Kindling sits on the ground floor of the Willis Tower with a James Beard Award-winning chef, Jonathon Sawyer, helming a live-fire kitchen which brings a little flair to a well-thought out menu with a little bit for everything. Confit chicken wings, fresh pastas, and plenty of meaty specials are part of the restaurant’s repertoire. 

Chris Peters/Eater Chicago

Le Select

Daniel Rose’s much-awaited homecoming has revealed a large and brooding brasserie in River North operated in partnership with Boka Restaurant Group. Rose gained Michelin game in New York and France and wants to make great French food accessible to Chicagoans with scallops in French curry, steamed marrow with a cherry glaze, and a killer French onion soup. There’s also a second-floor lounge.

Boka Restaurant Group

Related Maps